Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is an allergic skin condition that produces itchy, thickened, red areas on various parts of the body. It tends to come and go, and often occurs along with other allergic conditions such as asthma. Rarely, eczema can develop on the nipples of nursing mothers. If that's what has happened in your case, be sure to consult a dermatologist who can confirm the diagnosis. With proper treatment, you should be able to continue nursing your baby.
Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., director of fellowship for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, notes that breastfeeding and eczema has been studied in babies much more than in moms, and that breastfeeding can help protect your baby from developing eczema and other allergies. A policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued in January 2008 recommends breastfeeding for at least four months to protect high-risk children against eczema and milk allergy during the first two years of life. The AAP defined "high risk" as babies with a family history of eczema, asthma or food allergies.
Dr. Low Dog also suggests that you take a probiotic and one to two grams of fish oil daily. Both are safe for your baby and may help bring your eczema under control.
I further recommend visualization and hypnotherapy, both of which can have a significant positive impact on allergy-related skin conditions such as eczema. And try to relax - stress can make the condition worse. Explore relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and yoga.
In general, my recommendations for treating eczema include the following:
- Eliminate cow's milk and all cow's milk products from your diet, as well as products that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (often found in snack foods and baked goods) and trans-fatty acids (margarine, vegetable shortening).
- Take 500 milligrams of black currant oil twice a day (half that dose for children younger than 12). It contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that promotes healthy growth of skin, hair and nails. You should begin to notice positive changes in six to eight weeks.
- Apply aloe vera gel (from a fresh plant or buy lotions or moisturizers containing aloe) or calendula cream to affected areas.
- Experiment with lotions and salves containing chaparral (Larrea divaricata), a desert plant used topically in Mexican folk medicine for skin conditions.
- Bathe or shower for the shortest time possible, and use a non-perfumed moisturizing soap. Apply a thick moisturizing cream immediately after patting yourself dry - don't rub your skin when you towel-dry your body.
Andrew Weil, M.D.